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The successful test-firing of Agni-V this week has confirmed India’s capability to launch long-range ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads and conventional weapons.

India had demonstrated the capability last year when the missile, which has a range of 5,000 km, was first tested, thus earning a place for the country in the club of a few nations which have the technology to launch missiles of this class. It was then called a long range ballistic missile but the defence establishment has now clearly described it as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), as the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) can now increase the range of the missile to beyond 10,000 km in two or three years. But the immediate defence requirements of the country would necessitate a missile with only a 5,000 km range. At the present stage of development it can strike even the farthest target in China, which has a missile strike range covering entire India and even much beyond.

The missile is ready for production and will be canisterised for safe storage and easy movement in the next few months. After two or three canister-based tests which will ensure that it can be deployed in any situation, the missile will be inducted into the forces by 2015. With other missiles in the Agni series, Prithvi missiles, fighter aircraft which can carry nuclear weapons and the soon-to-be inducted Arihant submarine, India will soon have effective and reliable nuclear deterrence capabilities. Though there is no immediate threat perception, it is important to develop and perfect these capabilities to match the country’s future role and to meet any situation that might arise in future. It need not also cause concern to others as India has ruled out a nuclear first strike against any country.

The next step in nuclear deterrence would be development of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) which can release many warheads against different targets. China is considered to have the technology for this and the DRDO is working on this. In the years to come it will also be necessary to develop a dependable anti-missile system, including a defence shield, against  incoming missiles.  Deterrence will not be complete without this capability. This will involve much more sophisticated technology and greater investment. The DRDO’s performance has not matched the expectations of the country in many areas but it has done creditable work in missile development. It should extend the good work to other important areas.

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